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The West End Front
on 2 November 2011
During World War 2, London's grand hotels, the Ritz, the Savoy, the Dorchester and Claridge's, were home and shelter to an eclectic collection of spies, stars, aristocrats, deposed royals, criminals and politicians, who, behind the walls of these reinforced buildings sought safety, refuge and an arena for their often clandestine activities.
Using interviews with first-hand witnesses, letters, memoirs and newly declassified government papers, Matthew Sweet unveils a fascinating world that few of us know anything about, and he brings alive the intrigue, scandal, tragedy and the simply bizarre that went on behind the discreet doors of these luxury hotels. Like the occasion when a suite at Claridge's was declared Yugoslav territory for just one night so that Crown Prince Alexander could be born on Yugoslav soil - with a little box of earth under the bed.
The enormous amount of research that Matthew Sweet has done is evidenced in the detailed background to every character, incident and anecdote, and sometimes this mass of detail threatens to overwhelm the reader. It is, perhaps, a book to be savoured in bite-size pieces than in one indigestible chunk, but he has nevertheless done a fantastic job in bringing this almost forgotten aspect of war-torn London life onto the page, and I recommend the book to individuals and book groups alike.